Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a state grand jury today indicted a couple from Trenton, on first-degree charges, including human trafficking, for allegedly forcing a girl, 17, to engage in prostitution for them at area hotels and advertising the victim’s services on Backpage.com. The defendants were arrested in January by the New Jersey State Police.
The Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, Human Trafficking Unit, today obtained a seven-count indictment charging Ashley Gardener, 30, and Breon Mickens, 26, both of Trenton, N.J., with the following charges:
1. Conspiracy (1st degree),
2. Human Trafficking (1st degree),
3. Facilitating Human Trafficking (2nd degree),
4. Promoting Prostitution of a Minor (1st degree),
5. Promoting Organized Street Crime (1st degree),
6. Advertising Commercial Sexual Abuse of a Minor (1st degree), and
7. Endangering the Welfare of a Child (2nd degree).
“Human traffickers prey on the vulnerable, depriving victims of their freedom, isolating them from any benevolent support network, and forcing them into a miserable life of slavery – in this case, sexual slavery,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We will continue to work tirelessly with our law enforcement partners at all levels, as well as victim advocates, to raise awareness about human trafficking, rescue victims, and bring those responsible for these terrible crimes to justice.”
“Trafficking anyone, man or woman, boy or girl, is a violation of basic human rights—it is appalling and indecent, and it will not be tolerated in New Jersey,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan, Acting Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “I commend the State Police Trafficking Central Unit, Troop “C” CIO, Fugitive Unit, and our partners for swiftly locating and arresting those responsible, and also the person who called 9-1-1, because public assistance is an essential component of our mission.”
According to officials, on a Jan. 11th at 11 p.m., troopers from the New Jersey State Police Hamilton Station were dispatched to investigate a report of a young woman walking along Interstate 295 in Lawrence Township. Troopers located the 17-year-old victim, who reported she escaped from a hotel where she was being forced to perform sex acts. As a result, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, Lawrence Police Department, and New Jersey Department of Children and Families responded to assist with the investigation.
Investigators determined that Gardener and Mickens allegedly transported the victim to hotels against her will to engage in prostitution. For three days before she was rescued, the victim allegedly was forced by Gardener to engage in sexual intercourse with approximately four to 15 men per day. The victim allegedly was deprived of food, given marijuana to smoke, and prohibited from calling her family. It is further alleged that Gardener and Mickens forced the victim to engage in prostitution on several other occasions between Dec. 27 and Jan. 11 at various hotels in the Mercer County area, refusing to let her leave the hotel for a period of two to three days and forcing her to have sex with multiple men each day.
According to authorities, Gardener allegedly placed sexually suggestive ads on Backpage.com featuring photos of herself and the victim. The ads offered adult entertainment and listed a phone number for clients to call. That number allegedly was Gardener’s phone number. Gardener allegedly would arrange by telephone for the sexual services and a price to be paid by the client, or “John.” When a client arrived, Gardener would collect cash from the man and tell the 17-year-old victim what sex acts she had to perform. It is alleged that Gardener sometimes would stay in the room, but other times she would leave. Mickens allegedly acted as the “muscle” for the operation and would be inside the hotel room when clients arrived. He allegedly would leave after the clients paid. The victim never received any of the money from the clients.
Shortly after the victim was rescued, members of the New Jersey State Police Trafficking Central Unit and Troop “C” Criminal Investigations Office located and arrested Gardener at a hotel in Lawrence Township, N.J. On Jan. 14, the New Jersey State Police Trafficking Central Unit, Fugitive Unit, Electronic Surveillance Unit, and the United States Marshal’s Service New Jersey/New York Regional Fugitive Task Force-Trenton Division located and arrested Mickens in Trenton. Gardener and Mickens are being detained pre-trial in the Mercer County Jail.
The first-degree human trafficking charge carries a sentence of 20 years without parole to life in state prison and a fine of up to $200,000.
The charge of promoting organized street crime carries a sentence of 15 to 30 years in state prison, consecutive to the sentence for any underlying crime. The other first-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $200,000. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Peter E. Warshaw Jr. in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Mercer County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear in court for arraignment at a later date. The indictment is posted with this press release at www.njpublicsafety.com.
Attorney General Grewal and Director Honig urged anyone who suspects human trafficking to report it by calling the Division of Criminal Justice’s Human Trafficking Hotline 1-855-END-NJ-HT.